STATEMENT: New Voter ID Laws Could Cost Millions Their Right To Vote, According to New Briefing Paper

Release Date: 
October 16, 2006

New York, NY — Millions of eligible voters could lose their right to vote in coming years if new state and national photo identification and proof of citizenship requirements for voting are implemented, according to a new briefing paper published by Demos, a national public policy and research center. The paper, part of Demos' 2006 Challenges to Fair Elections Series, offers evidence that new and prospective voter ID requirements, in states and on the national level, have been advanced without adequate consideration of facts or the potential impact on voting rights.

In recent years, states such as Georgia, Missouri and Indiana have enacted highly restrictive identification requirements for voting, and Arizona passed a statewide referendum that would require stringent ID and citizenship requirements at the polls. All of these laws have undergone recent challenges in court, and three — those in MO, GA, and AZ — have been legally enjoined and prevented from being enacted this year. Indiana's remains, and national debate, and further challenges to the court rulings in these states, will continue.

"New photo ID requirements for voting are being challenged in court because the evidence shows they have the potential to prevent millions of eligible US citizens from voting," said Miles Rapoport, President of Demos. "The courts know, and the facts show, that misleading arguments and distorted facts about "voter fraud" have been used to advance ID legislation. Research proves that strict photo ID requirements for voting solve none of the real problems of elections in the United States, and will actually prevent far too many eligible voters from exercising their responsibility to vote."

Facts from the Voter ID briefing paper include:

Voter fraud at the polls is minimal.

* A recent survey of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections found only four instances of ineligible people attempting to vote, out of over 9 million votes cast in the state during the 2002 and 2004 general elections — a fraud rate of 0.000044 percent.
* The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that while 200 million votes were cast in federal elections since October 2002, only 86 individuals have been convicted of federal voter fraud — and none for offenses that would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement.
* An extensive analysis of election fraud in 2002 found that voter fraud is rare, that safeguards to prevent fraud are already in place, and that individual voter fraud rarely sways election results.

New voter ID laws are not based upon evidence and fail to address practices that are actually responsible for most reported incidents of fraud.

* In blocking Georgia's law, two separate courts found little to no evidence supporting the new voting restriction.
* Indiana could not cite "any incidents or persons attempting to vote, or voting, at a voting place with fraudulent or otherwise false identification" in the course of the federal lawsuit against Indiana's voter ID law.
* In the few instances where voter fraud has occurred in recent years, it has commonly involved the submission of fraudulent absentee ballots or false voter registration forms, which new voter ID requirements would not have prevented.

Millions of Americans lack government-issued photo ID, particularly the elderly, people with disabilities, the poor and people of color. Strict voter ID requirements will block thousands of legitimate votes for the one, rare fraudulent ballot.

* According to the 2001 National Commission on Federal Election Reform, 6 to 10 percent of voting-age Americans have no driver's license or state-issued non-driver's photo identification card — approximately 11 to 20 million citizens. Those who lack photo ID are disproportionately poor, urban and elderly.
* In 2005, the American Association of People with Disabilities estimated that more than 3 million Americans with disabilities do not possess a driver's license or state-issued photo ID.

Voter ID proponents commonly misrepresent the actual incidence of voter fraud or photo ID's ability to prevent it.

* Voter fraud claims are commonly raised by partisan figures disenchanted with election results. In recent years, the allegations — many of which are later shown to be greatly exaggerated or unfounded — have been coupled with calls for strict voter ID requirements:
o In Wisconsin: John Kerry carried Wisconsin by an 11,000 vote margin in the 2004 presidential race. Nearly 3 million votes were cast statewide. Former U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari alleged that the race was "decided by illegal votes. "As authority she cited a report issued by an inter-agency task force led by U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic. In fact, Biskupic announced that his probe had uncovered "no evidence of a conspiracy to influence the 2004 presidential elections." Only 14 indictments have resulted from the task force's investigations.
o In Washington State: Former U.S. Rep. Susan Molinari also cited the contested 2004 gubernatorial race in Washington, which she claimed was "decided by illegal votes," as justification for a national photo identification requirement for voting.

"There is clear evidence that new voter ID requirements would turn the clock back on voting rights and injure our election system, for which there are proven, fair reforms that will increase access to the polls and engage more citizens in the democratic process," said Rapoport. "Strict voter ID requirements have no place in 2006, 2008 or beyond. There's other work to be done, and our legislators should pay attention to voters' real concerns, and our election system's real needs."

For more information, to download the Voter ID briefing paper or others in the Challenges to Fair Elections series, or the Demos policy briefing book Fulfilling America's Promise, visit archive.demos.org.

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